Government sends reinforcements to Bozoum

The Central African Republic (CAR) has sent troop reinforcements to Bozoum, 384 km northwest of the capital, Bangui, Deputy Defence Minister Xavier Sylvestre Yangongo told IRIN on Wednesday

He would not say how many soldiers had been sent to the town. People living along the road leading north from Bangui said on Tuesday they had seen many truckloads of troops heading north.

Yangongo denied reports that the rebels, led by the exiled former army general, Francois Bozize, had retaken Bozoum, from where they had been driven out on 20 December 2002. "Bozoum and Bouar are well protected," Yangongo said.

Newspapers reported on Tuesday that Bouar, 100 km southwest of Bozoum, was under rebel control. Bouar is strategic as it is the last big town in the CAR on the way to Douala seaport, in neighbouring Cameroon. Almost all CAR imports and exports pass through Bouar. The town also has a former French military base, which is now a government army training camp.

Yangongo added that Bozize's forces were becoming weaker as CAR nationals disassociated themselves from them. "Eighty-five percent of the rebels are Chadians," President Ange-Felix Patasse told provincial governors and their deputies in a speech broadcast on 10 January by government-owned Radio Centrafrique.